Paradise Lost


I’ve never been a big fan of the so-called holiday season — which is really the Christmas season with also-rans Chanuka and Kwanzaa.  I don’t like the commercialism, I don’t like the false equivalency of Chanuka with Christmas, and I could positively go bananas from the electronic wallpaper that takes Christmas carols (music I actually like) and makes it obnoxious both by its ubiquity and by some truly appalling arrangements.

I’m a little bit grinchy, I’m a little bit rock & roll.

I’m finding other triggers as well, unique to our new situation.

The other day, on what I look at as my last gasp of air before Bill hits the retail peak season, during which time he will be working much longer hours and more days per week, I took a long-neglected gift card from a silly store I’d never otherwise shop at and parlayed it into free Chanuka gifts for my kids.  The bad news is that it required me to go to a ritzy Boston mall, something I haven’t done in — well, you know.

As I passed Neiman-Marcus, Jimmy Choo, Williams-Sonoma, and all the rest, I was struck by the notion that I may never again be able to make an impulse purchase, just for pleasure.  I don’t think I was ever that consumerist, but I did like to wander among the kitchen gadgets and the leather boots.  Now I don’t even take the kids to the coffee shop on a rainy day.  I feel as if I live in a society I no longer belong to.  I see people shopping — just looking at and buying stuff — and I feel alienated and resentful.

I shudder to think how much I must have given rise to that feeling in others, back when I could spend money freely.

There is a woman at my synagogue who, as far as I can tell, doesn’t work either for pay or for tikkun olam.  She’s probably in her late 40s or early 50s and able-bodied.  She plays guitar, keeps house, does crafts, and plays with model trains.  I’m not kidding.  She married (relatively) late in life — it’s a second marriage for her husband — a guy who is very well off.  They go out to eat frequently, travel in luxury, and go to cultural or sports events every week.  And she tells me about all of it.  As in, “P— really outdid himself this time; we slummed it at the Ritz for the first night of our trip, then went to this luxury resort villa for a week, where all we did was eat great food and sit by the pool.”  Sometimes I feel so dispirited in conversation with her; she seems immune to my hints that it’s not that pleasant for me to hear about her luxurious life.  (I once referred to myself half-jokingly as Cinderella during one of her particularly ostentatious monologues.)  Never once has she offered to come over and keep me company with the kids, or cook a meal for us, or help out in anyway.  Not that I expect people to offer help as a matter of course, but I guess I resent both the insensitivity and the disparity that gives it life.

Same deal with another person I know who told me how her husband flew her to Portugal for their 7th anniversary, and oh, didn’t Bill and I have an anniversary recently?  (Yes we did, and thanks to our lovely friend Jennifer, we went to the movies together on a Friday afternoon.  Even had popcorn.)

I am definitely on the outside looking in a lot now.  I wasn’t totally comfortable being on the inside, but I now must admit that the outside is worse.  If I ever have the chance again, I will enjoy every trip to the coffee shop.


4 thoughts on “Paradise Lost

  1. I can get a litte proselytize-y about this, so forgive me in advance. But about ten years ago, I stopped participating in “the holiday season.” I don’t visit family, I don’t go to holiday parties, I don’t exchange gifts, I don’t bake, I don’t make special dinners, I don’t travel if I can at all help it. And then something changed in me. I stopped tolerating the holiday season and started loving it.

    Not for the holiday season, mind–for the lack of it. Or more specifically, for the lack of anything. See, it’s the only time of the year that practically everybody in the whole world has obligations, which means that as someone who’s chosen to opt out, I have absolutely none. It’s hard to describe what this feels like, but it’s a sort of incredible sense of peace and quiet, right down to my bones. Like the Anti-Stress. I value it incredibly. If Christmas somehow magically got skipped some year, I would miss it like crazy.

    And I look at all the Scrooges of the season–you know, the ones who are constantly complaining about rampant commercialism and overcommitment and presents they don’t really want and parties they don’t feel like attending–and I just feel sad for them. I want to take them all under my wing and whisper at them about the sheer joy of just…stopping.

    • wonderboys

      I get what you’re saying, and in some ways I’m on board. Chanuka is not a big holiday at all, but I do enjoy the latke parties and especially the traveling to visit family. It’s often the only time that my whole family is together, and last year when we couldn’t afford to fly and hadn’t yet discovered the courage to drive all night, it broke my heart.

      I used to enjoy giving gifts, though. Not just for holidays and birthdays but just because it was a pleasure for me to see something that was so right for someone and be able to give it.

      Forgoing gifts with two small children — now that’s something I’d need a lot of chutzpah to pull off!

  2. Blah, I hear you. My favorite is when people tell me what I “should” do, as in “You should redo your kitchen!” (or install a real shower, or rip out those awful bushes, or do an overnight getaway with Andy) to which I always want to respond, “You’re right, and YOU should pay for it!”

  3. I hear you. In my first marriage, we had plenty. We could easily afford our bills and had plenty for the kids to do whatever they wanted and to buy them (within reason) all the cool toys.

    Since David got sick and we divorced and I remarried, I have lived under the poverty level. We don’t have enough money for our bills or even groceries a lot of the time, and it sucks. But it has made me so grateful for little things like $5 for Starbucks once in a while, and made me so grateful for those friends in my life who see the reality and reach out in profoundly simple ways that recognize our struggle and respectfully and lovingly give us help sometimes.

    I’m sorry that this holiday season is so difficult. I cringe everytime Jude asks for me Christmas gifts this year. There is NO money for anything and the credit cards are maxed out. So I am here with you in solidarity and trying to find a meaningful way to celebrate the holidays without buying stuff :). And to make that palatable to a 5 yo (and 10 and 13 and 3 yo’s too).

    Many hugs coming your way. Know that you have friends who love you and won’t tell you about that trip to Cancun!

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